Traveler’s Oasis: Dojima Ann

sushi-3Of all the fabulous places one can dine in the culinary rich San Francisco, I ate at the little hole-in-the-wall Japanese restaurant near my hotel – twice! As usual, I was totally craving the taste of home!

Dojima Ann, located a few blocks from the hustle and bustle of Union Square, is not just a little friendly Japanese noodle shop but an oasis for any Japanese or Japanese-food loving travelers tired of dining at fancy restaurants and just want simple, down-home cooking (the place was packed with those appeared to be Japanese tourists). What is so pleasantly surprising about this place is that despite its location, it offers many authentic, Osaka-style dishes that you would only expect in Asian enclave.

noodle

I ordered a bowl of Daikon Oroshi Udon, a cold udon noodle with grated Japanese radish, quail egg, fish cake, scallion and root vegetables (pictured above), served with dipping sauce, and a side of hamachi (yellowtail) cut roll to calm my Japanese food craving. (pictured below).  They were both so darn tasty!

sushi-2

I guess you can take a girl out of Japan, but you can’t take Japanese food craving out of a girl.

Dojima Ann
★★★★☆

Advertisements

The Tourist Bait: Boudin, San Francisco

boudin-1

I spent most of this week in San Francisco for business and had a marvelous time learning new things, meeting wonderful people, and absorbing the vibrant energy this city radiates. This was already my second trip to the city this year but I just can’t seem to get enough of its rich history, unparalleled beauty and an impressive culinary variety. This city is definitely one of my favorite places in the world.

boudin-2

This frequent travel has helped me become a better traveler but I still can’t seem to shake off my bad habit when it comes to figuring out my dining options.

While I usually stay away from dining at touristy, overpriced restaurants back home in Los Angeles, I shamelessly become a camera-hauling, fanny pack-wearing Japanese tourist when visiting a new city, willingly allowing those touristy restaurants to take total advantage of me. It must be my inner “ambulance chaser” that makes me gravitate toward things that people are buzzing around, just so that I can say I’ve been there too. I once stood in line for an hour at a hole-in-a-wall bakery in San Francisco Chinatown only because there was a long line, and I didn’t even know why I was in line for! Curiosity .. it’s a bitch.

boudin

Boulin located in Fisherman’s Wharf (perhaps the LA equivalent of Venice boardwalk … they even smell alike) is definitely the bait, hooking tourists and their wallets with its hyped reputation, robust history and stylish décor.

I ordered the famous Clam Chowder in a sourdough bread bowl at Boulin and although the bread was pretty amazing, the chowder was mediocre. I had to add salt and pepper (which I usually don’t do) because the soup was flavorless and bland, and I could barely find any clams in the small bowl.

But I suppose I should judge this place on the quality of the sourdough bread that it is famous for, and in that case, this place is pretty impressive. It was so good that I even hauled a couple sourdough baguettes back home as souvenirs!

boudin-3

boudin-5

The cutest bread boules ever 🙂

boudin-4

They are too cute to eat!

Bland soup aside, Boudin is a place everyone should try at least once when in Fisherman’s Wharf. Sitting at the outdoor dining area overlooking the water is definitely one of the treats of visiting San Francisco.

wharf

Boudin
At Fisherman’s Wharf
Sourdough bread: ★★★★☆

Unpleasantly Surprised: Lavanda Restaurant and Wine Bar

a-lavenda-appetizer2When the Epi-“curious” Threesome (or the Gastro Monsters, or the Hungry Trios, or just “Three-Friends-That-Go-Around-Town-in-Search-of-Great-Food”) gets together for dinner, it’s a guarantee good time. But, deciding on where to dine can be a challenge at times, because we want to try everything and narrowing down to just one is virtually impossible! Needless to say, we take preparation very seriously, as careful research is definitely the key to maximizing our dining experience. Tiffany’s epicurean inspiration comes from Chowhound and Gabriel relies on the trusted Zagat, and I dive into my favorite blogs to give us the best recommendations.

We were in the Silicon Valley together for business a few weeks ago, and we all agreed, after serious discussion as to where we should go, to drive down to the neighborhood of Palo Alto, a home of many fine restaurants. We had narrowed down to several places that were Chowhound- and Zagat-approved, but when we drove by Lavanda’s warm and welcoming décor, we just had to throw away our plan and go in.

Despite our unlikely spontaneous act, the night seemed promising. The place was beautifully lit with the natural light of the late afternoon sun, and the fully stocked wine bar showed pride the restaurant has in its fine vino. We were seated on a table by the window overlooking the hip yet sophisticated University Avenue where, I suspect, is the destination of many local Northern Californian’s very discriminating pallets. Lavanda, it turned out, boasts an impressive resume.  Not only was it dubbed by Michelin Guide as one of the best restaurants in the Bay Area, it is the recipient of Wine Specter Magazine’s “Best of Award of Excellent” for featuring, “one-of-a-kind wines from around the world.”

The threesome, who can never settle for just one, ordered the Red Wine Flight that allowed us to sample three of the popular reds, and ordered three tapas-like appetizers to get the night started.

The first appetizer we ordered was Stuffed Risotto Fritters. The little orange-like balls were wonderfully golden brown with well-cooked Risotto but the flavor of the blue cheese that oozes out on the first bite was just a tab too overwhelming for my taste as it took away the goodness of the Arborio rice.

Vince’s Avocado and Grilled Bread, on the other hand, was more on the simple side, but lacked any character. It was nothing more than an avocado smeared on a piece of tasteless bread. I would have loved to taste a drizzle of olive oil or a sprinkle of sea salt on it for more depth in flavor.

The tomato salad we ordered was my favorite appetizer of the night. The mixture of fresh tomatoes, red onions and other summer vegetables tossed in light vinaigrette was refreshing – a perfect plate for the hot summer night.

Unfortunately the fun ends there.

a-lavanda-pasta1I ordered the Fettuccini with Mushroom Ragu from the special menu with anticipation. The dish had all the characteristics of a true winner – with homemade fresh pasta and wonderfully pungent wild mushrooms – yet the dish was, I hate to say, one of the worst pasta dishes I have ever tasted. The fresh pasta didn’t translate well on the plate as they were mushy and overcooked, and they reminded me so much of the consistency and the texture of an Instant Noodle (yikes). The Ragu was flavorless, somehow silencing the lovely flavor of mushrooms as if it were ever possible. It was so unfortunate because I was really looking forward to this.

a-lavanda-risotto1Tiffany’s Shrimp Risotto was not any better. I understand how difficult it is to make a perfect Risotto, but this one seemed to lack effort. The rice was still coarse and tasted very “rushed”, as if the chef didn’t give enough love and time for the dish’s magic to truly come out. Shrimps were slightly overcooked which made the texture very rubbery.

a-lavanda-ravioliThe House Made Ravioli of Artichokes with Manouri Cheese, Kalamata Olives and Wild Fennel that Gabriel ordered were our favorite, or should I say the lesser of two evils. The artichoke filler was interesting and the cheese added creaminess to each bite.

Lavanda, to me, is a place that purely relies on its untarnished reputation and not on the craftsmanship of the folks in the kitchen. With wonderfully written reviews from some of the most reputable publications in the Bay Area, I’m sure that Lavenda is full of charm. We, unfortunately, were not able to experience that during our first and last visit.

This night made us really rethink about deviating from the original plan and spontaneously giving an unknown venue a chance, which was perhaps the most disappointing part of this entire dining experience.

Lavanda Restaurant and Wine Bar
185 University Avenue
Palo Alto, CA 94301
★★★☆☆